County commissioners support morgue authority efforts

(From left to right) Mecosta County Commissioners Linda Howard, Marilynn Vargo and Jerrilynn Strong listen to a presentation from County Administrator Paul Bullock regarding the West Michigan Forensic Pathology Services Authority. Commissioners approved a request from the authority for the county to serve as the employing body for a forensic pathologist for the morgue located in Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/Taylor Fussman)

BIG RAPIDS — Hiring a forensic pathologist for the joint county morgue may be in sight.

At the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday morning, commissioners approved a request from the West Michigan Forensic Pathology Services Authority (WMFPSA) to have Mecosta County serve as the employer of whoever is eventually hired as the forensic pathologist for the morgue located in Big Rapids.

County Administrator Paul Bullock explained original discussions around hiring for the position focused on Mid-Michigan Medical Group hiring a candidate and contracting out to the authority. However, he said the authority has found offering an independent contract will not be an effective way to attract and retain an individual to the position.

“Most of these forensic pathologists are paying off student loans because they went to school for a long time, and most of them weren’t independently wealthy when they went into it,” Bullock said. “Given that, it’s essential that we qualify for the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.”

In order for a forensic pathologist to qualify for the PSLF program, Bullock explained they must be employed by a government or nonprofit organization, and without this piece it would be difficult to attract qualified candidates to the position.

Members of the WMFPSA discussed putting together an employment package of its own, but thought this would be too time consuming a project and would further set back the timeline of hiring a forensic pathologist.

Therefore, at their monthly meeting on Wednesday, June 27, the authority agreed the most time and cost effective option would be to approach Mecosta County requesting the county serve as the employing body.

County officials agreed this option would make sense as the morgue is located within the Mecosta County Services building.

Additionally, Bullock said because the county is acting as fiduciary for the WMFPSA, funds for salary and benefits could be paid directly out of the authority fund account.

Commissioner Marilynn Vargo, who serves on the WMFPSA board along with Bullock, said the authority has a good group of people working on moving the project forward.

“The authority board is made up of people who are there for one reason, and that’s to make it succeed,” Bullock said.

In other action from Thursday’s meeting, commissioners:

• Approved paying an invoice for fiscal year 2018-19 Michigan Association of Counties annual dues in the amount of $8,329.61; and

• Voted 6 to 1 to deny a request from the Department of Health and Human Services board to fund camp scholarships in the amount of $1,350 as it does not comply with state laws regarding use of public funds. Linda Howard was the only commissioner to vote in favor of approving the request.

The next Mecosta County Board of Commissioners meeting will take place at 3 p.m. on Thursday, July 19.

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